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What our infatuation with celebrity has to say about how Westerners see reality—perhaps what we call “reality TV” is especially illuminating here—and what notions of the good are imported within such celebrity infatuation looms large over questions of worship and virtue. Because our attachment to celebrities takes up prime real estate in the Western imagination, issue 18 of The Other Journal will reflect on the various facets and shapes of celebrity culture. Join us as we look at ourselves and our celebrity culture in essays, art exhibits, videos, poetry, short stories, reviews, and interviews.

“Press lightly with your fingers until you feel the blood pulsing,” so reads a rather standard set of instructions for determining one’s pulse and target heart rate. But those seemingly routine instructions—feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers—have an unsettling aftertaste. They suggest the expected rhythm of the blood but also the potential eerie, arhythmic pulses that translate into something more ominous, some harbinger of health decline. And so it is no surprise that taking the labile pulse of our global economic health induces panic for everyone from the political pundit to the daily commuter, retiree, and college student.

The signs of disease are everywhere—unemployment rates over 10 percent; scarce access to credit and decaying credit ratings; shrinking bank accounts; skyrocketing debt, both nationally and personally; home foreclosures aplenty, and a growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. This decade has changed us all. It burned away many of our self-deceptions, reminding us of our vulnerabilities (e.g., 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq) and that if something seems too good to be true it probably is (e.g., real estate, Tiger Woods, our liberal and conservative political icons).

But all queasiness aside, there is a pulse and a hope that the pain of the decade can be overcome. In this issue, we ask contributors to take the pulse of America and the global economy and to offer Christian accounts of hope for grounding amid decline. Here we publish essays, reviews, creative writing, and art exhibits that engage our time of decline and locate hope amid and beyond such a theater of despair.

The topic of race is germinal to U.S. national history and to the very history of modernity itself. In that vein, this has been a benchmark year, where the world witnessed a racially charged U.S. presidential election climax in the inauguration of the first black president of the United States of America, Barack Obama. Such a momentous event led many pundits to hail that the dawn of a post-racial America—a final blurring and blending of the color lines which previously segmented our population—had begun. But race is a psychological and social construct that runs deeper than any government post, even the most powerful office in the world. Race disciplines our personal identities, communities, and ways of life. It will always be a fundamental element of the American story; it continues to exist as a live issue.

Instead of witnessing a denouement to the U.S. racist history, then, today there is an opening to understand and dialogue in deeper ways about what this past has wrought. In this issue, we shake off any notions of a post-racial epoch and theologically explore what race is and what that means for Christian witness. This issue looks to ecclesial and anthropological implications of living as people of race and people baptized into the same church and into one body (see our lead article by Brian Bantum). American history was crafted upon deep racial distinctions, and its society has been and to this day largely is bifurcated along racial lines, and the Christian church has been shaped by these lines and distinctions, as it worships in primarily segregated communities—90 percent of black U.S. Christians worship in predominantly black churches, and 90 percent of white U.S. Christians worship in predominantly white churches.

How faith has resisted racial injustice and violence, or has been co-opted and perpetuated such violence, is particularly important for today’s church. Across denominations and spiritual movements there are hopeful signs of a fuller witness to unity, but there also remain racist chasms between brothers and sisters in the faith.

This, the 16th issue of The Other Journal, will explore the topic of race theologically out of the conviction that matters of race are the most important matters of our time.

Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.

—Augustine, Confessions

Sometimes we mistake the gleam and shine of God for ordinary life, the Spirit’s fragrant breath for the pilings on of inconvenience, brokenness, even death and disability. Sometimes, like Augustine, we rush heedlessly past the lovely things, passing up backyard treasures, and pressing on through our agendas. And then, when we take the time to celebrate beauty, we risk condensing it into our own narrow frameworks and then nursing it, feeding it, until we transform that beauty into commodity.

In this issue, we will examine how beauty is understood in our culture and faith communities, exposing false caricatures of beauty and highlighting those instances of beauty that move us toward the divine. We hope this issue in some small way forces open our deafness and shows us how that Beauty, so ancient and so new, might pierce us, transform us, and color our world with peace.

You might think us cruel, but for our fourteenth issue, The Other Journal is taking up the topic of death and dying—as if struggling through frigid temperatures, influenza, and (if you’re from Seattle) perpetual gray isn’t enough! But the seasons do give rise to particular streams of thought, so we are using these winter months to reflect together on the nature of death and what it might mean to die well (in our living) and live well (in our dying).

Death is everywhere; it impacts and influences every aspect of life—from public policy to personal hygiene—so it is of utmost importance that we question how various responses to death, particularly fear of death, may (mal)nourish and (mal)form us individually, socially, and politically. Our personal and corporate efforts to avoid, postpone, and defy this season of our lives begs for Christian analysis and witness. And although our culture might prefer to tuck away the dead and dying in back page obituaries, quiet graveyards, and assisted living homes, the topic (and our infirm brothers and sisters) persists in its relevance as a perpetual fulcrum for our public and personal subconscious.

To face death and those who are dying may be what makes us humane; engaging our own mortality with faith that life is a gift, not a right or an entitlement, may be what makes us human.

Therefore, this issue offers theological, literary, aesthetic, and practical faith engagements with the realities of death and dying, fresh perspectives that retain and embolden the Christian hope that, even in death, the work of God reigns, justice prevails, and love will not be defeated.

In 2004, The Other Journal published our fourth issue, which focused on the U.S. presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry. In that issue, we interviewed individuals such as Amy Laura Hall, Tony Campolo, and Stanley Hauerwas, thinkers who urged us to consider politics outside the narrow Democratic/Republican dichotomy. They encouraged us to ponder the role of the church in America, especially in American politics, and how the example of Christ might help us practice the faith in election season.

Now, four years later, we again find ourselves in a heated contest between political rivals. The economy, environmental concerns, the health care system, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—these issues continue to raise ire, passion, and dismay.

The buzz is that we are also on the brink of great change. Many citizens believe that presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain represent new agendas, new hope, or at the very least, helpful modifications of the status quo. These politicians challenge us to consider the kinds of change we hope to see in the United States and in the world.

By considering change, we find ourselves back at the feet of pastors, theologians, ethicists, and poets. This issue explores the ways in which we need to rethink the role of church, the role of our faith, and the role of social action in our daily lives, in our communities, and in the collective life of democratic nation.

Issue #13 wrestles with the primary issues of the 2008 election. More importantly, however, issue #13 examines how change is conceived and implemented both within and outside of the current political landscape.

Everyone knows education is costly, but it may be bleeding more than the pocketbook.

Today’s students, from preschool tots to college twentysomethings, are expected to keep pace with an aggressively morphing digital age and to meet the demands of an ever-expanding global marketplace. We want to ask what is gained and what is lost as our schools shift to accommodate these cataclysmic and protean changes in our world.

Could it be that the contemporary movement further away from the liberal arts and more toward professional and pre-professional degree programs among educational institutions is a response to the market demand for a highly specialized and diversified labor force?

Does the fact that the prewealth major dominates the modern university mean that we have lost an understanding of the relationship between education and the common good?

Is the pressure to land a job that will secure our financial, legal, and medical security robbing us of the pursuit of personal calling and vocation?

These are important questions indeed.  Yet even as we ask these questions educators continue to juggle the chronic aches and pains of an imperfect system. Lean budgets, scarce resources, racial tensions, economic inequalities, behavior issues, pressure to meet standardized markers—these continue to be important struggles for contemporary educators.

Although Christian responses to a dysfunctional educational system have often been tribalist (e.g., home schooling our children, chartering Christian schools, and litigation against public curriculum), we will look at the larger philosophical, theological, and social issues that now befuddle us both in our public and private lives.

This issue explores the deeper theological, sociological, and psychological dynamics that may impact higher and lower education. Our examination of contemporary educational theory and practice draws from the rich heritage and creative wellsprings of the Christian tradition in hopes of developing constructive proposals for a vision of what it means to teach and learn in a way that is holistic and that does not leave our hearts fallow.

It’s easier than ever to be an atheist: our stores are filled with how-to guides, essential readings, and philosophical treatises that proclaim the good news of atheism, insisting that science can emphatically answer the riddle of God. And with the gauntlet thrown, theists have swarmed to the debate. Wielding their own swords of science, they declare that there is ample scientific evidence to support God’s existence.

In this particular duel of science, many of the arguments for and against God miss their mark. For both the atheist and the science-spawned theist, God is considered a potentially verifiable entity. Atheistic science reasons that such a super being cannot exist because it cannot be counted among or inferred from all other observable beings, and scientific theism gathers data to tilt the verdict toward the divine. The debate becomes a war of attrition as each side seeks to garner the most empirically verifiable facts in order to make God appear (or not appear) in some measurable form.

Other forms of Christianity uphold God as radically transcendent and beyond such reductions, but they may view God as so abstract, distant, and hidden that it no longer matters whether this God is or is not. There are also claims that the God of Christianity is a worthwhile supplement to science because of this God’s psychological and sociological use for human survival. But all of these religious responses seem unable to truly engage and challenge the atheist’s science on the question of God. Rather they unwittingly accept the terms set within this scientific way of seeing and knowing by already confining the shape of God to a range of observable possibilities or functional values.

We believe that heavily publicized science-religion debates tend to obscure the broader influence and character of modern atheism and how it might be more genuinely and critically engaged. Although currently popular atheists may disguise atheism as the result of scientific thinking, atheistic roots predate modern science—and what is more, famous atheists like Voltaire, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, who potentially offer a more rigorous challenge to Christianity, tend to argue from a larger cultural ethos rather than a specific scientific position.

Therefore, in this issue we seek to pursue greater insight into the question of atheism by moving beyond the walls of this narrow science-religion debate and reintroducing a historical perspective. Our writers explore how modern atheism may be far more than merely an intellectual position within a certain scientific framework, and rather a more pervasive cultural ethos. Moreover, in this issue we search out how this ethos has settled deep within the structures that underwrite and organize the shape of all modern social reality.

Through such explorations we wish to free up space in order to ask more poignant questions with regard to the modern phenomenon of atheism rather than to provide answers before the tribunal of a narrow science. This means considering questions that are no longer confined to measurable facts or the use-value of something like god but that instead seek a more critical and creative consideration of the value of a humanity that has forgotten, in a certain way, God.

It is only a matter of time after every major natural disaster—hurricane, tsunami, or earthquake—that a TV preacher or religious leader will name the victims’ sin as the cause of the tragedy, blaming those who suffer for their own agony. Although with each new catastrophe such diatribes are predictable, they are never any less ridiculous and inhumane. Such conclusions simplify the nature of suffering and the complexity of reality.

It may seem odd, then, that The Other Journal’s 10th issue looks at the relationship between sin and psychopathology. The relationship between the theological category of sin and the psychological category of psychopathology, at best, seems tenuous. Theology, some psychologists might argue, would do well to stay confined to its own territory, perhaps worrying about more esoteric topics like transubstantiation or baptism by immersion.

We believe, however, that theology holds much needed insight into contemporary psychopathology. Furthermore, we believe that theological categories of virtue and vice are vital in understanding how our particular moment in history is being integrated into our personalities.

In this issue we look at relational and structural sin in our culture and how such dynamics foster particular psychoses. This issue features articles from both psychologists and theologians, with topics ranging from cultural criticism to integration models, acute psychopathological trends to broad sociological injustice, and the hope of psychotherapy to the therapeutic promises of Christ.

We are pleased in this issue to feature such individuals as Charles Marsh, Eugene McCarraher, Dan Allender, Brian McLaren, and William Cavanaugh.